1. The room for our new class in maximum security (PEACE) is the complete opposite of our classroom in the education building. In max, the room is small, with no natural light and no windows to the outside. The only windows look into the center of the building, where an officer sits and watches us (often smiling). It feels smaller than it is, because we filled it with energy, movement and laughter. It feels bigger than it is because we were able to accomplish so much in such a tiny space. Walking into our ‘usual’ classroom (where we hold PRIDE’s classes) felt like walking into the clearing of a forest. Wide open spaces and big picture windows with sunlight streaming through. It felt even bigger than normal today, and I wanted us to run around it and swing our arms every which way to take advantage.
2. The women in max (PEACE) were so happy to see us. I expected at least some resistance or a raised eyebrow here or there. Instead, they gave us smiles and a warm welcome.
“This is something different!” “This is fun! We want to have fun.” “We need a stress reliever.”
We focused on community building and getting to know each other. I can tell that these women are more cooped up – they snipe at each other a little bit more and I can’t quite tell where the line is with playful banter v. hurtful remarks. We’ll address it as we go – I let most of it slide today. I actually want to bring in some activities that are going to raise frustration levels so we can work on coping mechanisms. Shirene, our facilitator from the spring, is great at that. Maybe she’ll come back with her rubber chicken and poker face…
And they asked about homework! As in, “We want homework.” Really? Homework? I love it – just let me find fifteen of my favorite poems for you to read so we can discuss them and then practice our own poetry by writing similar pieces. I call on the power of Sandra Cisneros!
3. Two classes require a greater amount of energy than one! Michelle and I were pooped. We finished with PEACE, ran up to PRIDE, taught a second class and then staggered out of the jail. Michelle’s used to this – she teaches two classes right in a row at Texas State but the experience of teaching one group of people, then turning around and delivering the exact same lesson plan half an hour later, is new to me. I’d gotten so good at remembering names recently – I feel like that might fly out the window.
And of course, the two groups are different. It will be interesting to see which activities work well with one and flop with the other, or which ones both love or both hate. I wish we had an outside evaluator who could take the time to really dig into best practices and what benefits the women the most. Someday, when the grants come pouring in.
A final thought – Michelle asked the great question in PEACE, “What can we do to help y’all? How can we make this a great class?” One woman said, “Keep showing up.” That hurt my heart a little. Who has not shown up for some of the women in our classes? Who in their lives has let them down? Who has withheld the support they need? Michelle and I can’t replace those people, of course, but we can show up, damnit. We can certainly do that.